Evangelicals hold edge in recruiting

The Journal Gazette, Fort Wayne/April 28, 2009

Washington - Evangelical Protestants - the largest group of religion-affiliated Hoosiers - are doing a better job of recruiting and retaining members than are mainline Protestants or Catholics, according to a study released Monday.

The survey by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life also showed that about half of American adults switch religious affiliation at least once in their lives.

John Green, Pew Forum senior fellow, said the health of evangelical Protestantism compared with Lutherans, Methodists and other mainline churches is because:

    • Children raised in evangelical households are more likely to remain in that church or switch to another evangelical denomination.

    • Evangelicals have a higher fertility rate than mainline Protestants.

  • Although most immigrants are Catholic, the non-Catholic immigrants are three times more likely to be evangelical than to belong to a mainline Protestant faith.
More than half of all Hoosiers are Protestant - 34 percent are evangelical; 22 percent are members of mainline churches, according to an earlier Pew survey. Nationwide, Green said, "the largest decline among Protestants has been among mainline Protestants. In fact, if you go back to the middle of the 20th century, that is the story of religious change among Protestants. "But other elements of Protestantism have either held their own or grown. ... In that competition, evangelicals seem to have an edge," he said.

Evangelical Protestants are the second-largest religious group in the U.S., slightly behind Catholics. But the Catholic Church is losing more members than it is recruiting, according to the survey.

The survey also showed that 28 percent of all adults are no longer members of the faith in which they were raised. Including changes within Protestant denominations, 44 percent of Americans say they are not members of the religion or denomination of their parents.

"Americans change religious affiliation often, early and for many different reasons," Green said.

The survey showed that the largest increase has been among people who are not affiliated with any religion or who are non-believers. Fewer than two of every 10 adults claim no religion, but of those, 79 percent were raised in a family that belonged to a denomination.

Of the 16 percent of Americans unaffiliated with a religion, 22 percent said they were raised in an evangelical household; 27 percent were raised Catholic; and 17 percent attended a mainline Protestant church as a child.

Most people who were raised in families that did not belong to a religion have now joined a denomination: 22 percent are members of an evangelical Protestant church; 13 percent are mainline Protestants; and 6 percent are Catholics.

A third of people who were raised Catholic have left the church. Nearly half are unaffiliated with another religion. Of the 47 percent who became Protestants, respondents joined evangelical denominations twice as often as mainline churches.

People who have switched religions or given up the faith they were raised in generally did so gradually, the study's authors said.

About seven of every 10 Catholics and Protestants who are now unaffiliated with a religion said they had "just gradually drifted away" from their faith. More than 75 percent of Catholics and half of Protestants not associated with a faith said that, over time, they stopped believing in their religion's teachings.

Green said researchers were surprised by that because they had assumed that policy disputes or disillusionment over internal scandals - such as clergy sex abuse in the Catholic Church - would play more of a role in decisions to leave a faith.

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